Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Familiar Flavors

Grandma Madie and me with the day's catch.
Kannapolis, N.C., c. 1972.
When I moved to Sapelo Island, Ga., in 2005, my new husband began trying to teach me about the old ways of hunting and cooking and eating. I had to let him know that, although I was a city girl, I grew up fishing with my dad, and I watched him and my uncles go hunting early in the morning in North Carolina, and bring back sacks of rabbits and what-not. I looked on as my grandmothers battered and fried fresh fish and cooked possum, rabbit and squirrel. My grandparents had large gardens with greens and tomatoes, beans and peas, and they cooked from scratch. These experiences, these flavors and foodways made Sapelo feel like home to me. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Slave Ship Animation

Stowage of the British slave ship Brookes under the regulated slave trade act of 1788
Library of Congress Prints & Photographs
A lot of websites claim they'll blow my mind. I'm usually disappointed. But the slave ship animation on the site Voyages: The Transatlantic Slave Trade Database got my attention.

Each dot represents a ship packed with kidnapped and tortured human beings -- mothers and daughters, sons and fathers -- leaving Africa, crossing the Atlantic to the Americas to be enslaved.

I watched from beginning to end, and I will never be able to wrap my mind around it.

Click on the "Animation" tab.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Finding Images

If you're looking for images from your community, try the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog. Many of the images have no known restrictions on their use. When I entered the search term "Lancaster, South Carolina," the result was several photographs of young children working in cotton mills.

Polly's Early Days

This is my all-time favorite photograph of my Grandma Polly. I love her sultriness and her confidence. She was a strikingly beautiful woman who lived life to the fullest. But she hated this photograph, especially the cigarette dangling from her hand. She didn't want us to see who she used to be. She wanted us to see the church lady and the grandmother she had become.

What I wouldn't give to be able to travel back in time to meet my mother and grandmothers as younger women. I think I would learn so much from knowing how they viewed the world then, as compared to their later years.

Over time, Grandma Polly shared some things with me, rattling stories off matter-of-factly. She knew I was a writer and that I collected family stories, and like most people in my family she chose her words carefully in my presence. But I wanted to know more.

Then again, when I think about my own life, I know there are things about me my children don't know and will never know. When I give them advice, they know I'm speaking from experience, but they don't know every painful detail. They see the woman those experiences have shaped. They see the woman I want them to see.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Roots revisited

I recently watched Roots from start to finish for the first time since 1977, when I was 11 years old. I remember watching it with my parents when it came on television, and going to school stunned. I couldn't look at the world the same way after that.

The impact of the television series has stayed with me all these years. Nevertheless, seeing it decades later was like watching it for the first time. I noticed things I didn't remember, subtle things.

I've had time to learn and reflect and live, and I now know how my family fits into a horrific chapter of American history. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Following in Mama's footsteps

Mama and me (the forehead in the foreground)

I'm working on the family history my late mother began when I was a girl. I enjoy reading her handwritten notes and the questions she would ask herself in the margin, questions like "Is this Papa's brother?"
In her final days, she was so concerned about what would happen to all her records. I assured her I would take care of them, even though the idea seemed overwhelming. I've always enjoyed genealogy, but I focused on collecting stories while Mama kept up with the charts and documents.

But I'm finding that the deeper I dig in the records, the more stories I'm discovering. Oftentimes the paper records tell stories very different from the oral history that has been passed down.  

I am deeply moved by the challenges that were overcome by my ancestors, the sacrifices that were made and their difficult choices that must have seemed insurmountable in the moment. 

I am looking at my family's lives from a perspective many generations removed. I wonder what my descendants will think of me and my story, and the choices I've made. 

I wonder what they will learn from my life.